Ignatius Mabasa Shelling Nuts
If you were sold at a cultural auction, how much would you fetch based on your language and cultural knowledge? In a globalised village, besides your passport, what is it that makes you Zimbabwean? If you left home for a number of years, and you came back to find all Zimbabweans, even those at the back of beyond, speaking Mandarin and eating noodles with chopsticks, what would be your reaction?
Would you feel betrayed that those who were supposed to have preserved our languages and cultural heritage, let the country down by allowing the Chinese culture to take over?
What if those you will be blaming for the betrayal also accused you of having left the country when you could have helped to play a part in the preservation of our rich Zimbabwean cultural diversity?
Will it not be possible for us to still be identified as Zimbabweans that speak Mandarin and eat noodles with chopsticks?
Are there certain Zimbabweans that must particularly carry the burden of preserving and promoting our cultures and heritage more than others?
When one of my friends left Zimbabwe, his intention was to go to the USA, work for five years and come back home and build himself a beautiful house in Harare and enjoy life.
It is now 23 years since he has been stuck there and each year he tells the same story that; “Definitely this year I will be back home because I am sick and tired of this place.”
But what is it that makes home special and why do foreigners feel strange and lost?
Why do we long for “home” even when we are in our home country?
When Lovemore Majaivana sang that poignant words of his, “Umoya wami awusekho lapha”, he was not in the USA.
He was in Zimbabwe, yet he missed home. Like Lois Lowry, I feel sorry for anyone including my friend who is in a place where he feels strange and stupid. On the other hand, like Elizabeth Lowell, I understand that “Some of us aren’t meant to belong. Some of us have to turn the world upside down and shake the hell out of it until they make their own place in it.”
But, imagine if we all left Zimbabwe to go and learn, work or settle in some far away country.
After spending 20 or 30 years, we then all packed our bags again to trek back home.
What would we be coming back to? How much would we bring, not just in terms of gadgetry, but tastes, beliefs, values, philosophies and languages? What will we have invested in during those years? Will it enrich your compatriots? What will our children raised in those lands be in terms of their identity? What history will they be talking about? Will they feel proud if addressed by their totem? Would they appreciate the beauty of their totem praise poetry? Soko Mukanya, vana mupona nezvekuba, vana mushambanegore? Or Shava Mhofu yemukono, mvura yadzonga, vana Matangakunwa, vanonwa shure vanonwa mabvondwe! Or Humba Makombe, chirimanemuromo!
Who will interpret the dead and deadly silence of the granite stones at Great Zimbabwe?
Who will tell the story of the Great Zimbabwe bird, hungwe?
Who will tell the story of Nyatsimba Mutota, Changamire Dombo or even explain that Gutu is a name derived from the great hunter Mabwazhe Chinemukutu Mapfuranhunzi — the sharpshooter, the one who never missed the bull’s eye with his arrow?
If we all left our motherland so that we can return as tourists, wearing designer Ray Ban, Police and Dolce Garbana glasses and taking pictures of mountains that are hiding stories, the history and graves of chiefs.
Who will lead the way to go back to our monuments when the grass in the meandering paths is overgrown and there is no one to tell whether we are in the right direction or not?
When we all decide to leave, at what point will we stop and turn around to go back and claim our dark shadows that could not keep pace with our bodies? What do we expect to come back home and find when we have been gone for so long such that we no longer dream in our own mother languages?
What will we find home when those back home are trying their best to compete with their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora to speak English with an American accent, to raise up children like Westerners and to divorce like movie stars?
Language is what defines us, what gives us identity.
Language is our homeland, it is our rallying point and what helps us to genuinely express the deepest and most complicated feelings.
It is language that speaks and welcomes those in the Diaspora when they come back home to say you are indeed home MaDube, Chihera or Magumbo. Home may have its share of problems, but it is the only place where you can laugh like a brook without inviting strange looks.
Today Zimbabweans are scattered all over — even in some very inhospitable places close to the North Pole where the sun is shy and shines with a strange brilliance. Unfortunately, a king’s son loses his honour in another kingdom. When you are in a foreign land, your spirit dries up like a river in drought. One despondent reader in the Diaspora said; “We were counting on you guys back home to still keep our languages, culture and customs intact. We are trying to teach our children our values here, but it is not working because there is a clash of cultures.”
I have seen people who went away from home coming back and expecting to find the sugar still being kept in the same old cracked blue tin that it was kept in 20 years ago. But it is a fact that even though the finger may point anywhere it likes, it doesn’t have the power to make a road. For continuity, for the sake of heritage, promotion of customs and values — Zimbabweans need to realise that culture is all our business. No cow grazes for another cow that is relaxing in the shade. Also, you should not expect to get cow dung when you don’t have any cows in your kraal. While we need the English language to remain relevant in a global village, it is important to enter the global village with our culture and identity. The Japanese have done that well.
The fact that some of us are in foreign countries, but at the same time expect that those who are home should ensure that all that makes us a united people with an identity, vibrant and colourful culture that functions properly is being high-handed. It is people who drive culture, including those in the Diaspora. Culture needs each one of us to play a role, to contribute and make it work. If sekuru Tonde has decided to stay in Australia, the nephews who were supposed to drink culture from him will drink poison from friends and social media. If Baba vaChido left home when Chido was five to settle in Scotland, when Chido gets married and he emails a list of his lobola requirements, he would have denied Chido’s brothers learning how in-laws are received and how lobola negotiations happen. And baba vaChido’s being in Scotland and wanting lobola for Chido, but not coming back to see, support and encourage Chido since she was five is the greatest betrayal and abdication of cultural duty. There are events, ceremonies and rituals that are best seen, shared, experienced and lived for them to make sense.
There are certain things that need all of us to be involved. The kana maenda kuchechi munotinamatirawo mentality is unproductive and unprogressive. Let us join efforts by institutions like UNESCO and fight against prejudice and discrimination handed down from history that we are second class and our languages are inferior. We need to have better knowledge of the history of Africa, the slave trade, slavery and its consequences in modern societies and the contribution of Africans and the African Diaspora to human progress. And by the way, if you see baba vaChido in Edinburgh, tell him that his absence has gone through Chido “like thread through a needle, and everything she does is stitched with its colour.”